Saturday, January 9, 2010

Alternate Universe: Stay Two Nights, the Third Night Is Free

Some years back, while still in the throes of undergraduate angst, you heard your instructor ask a rhetorical question that has haunted you ever since.


"How," he asked with a clap of his pudgy hands, "did the little girl get into the rabbit hole?"

Over the years, you have sought answers to that question that were either highly rational in origin or inclusive of mystical wisdom. The author did not waste much time getting the little girl, whom we have come to know as Alice, absorbed in her destination. Nor did Lyman Frank Baum provide extensive flight information for Dorothy Gale's journey to Oz. The journey was not the story; the destination and the consequences of the destination were the reasons for the narrative. In fact, we can say with some assurance that the more rational and explicit the details of the journey, the more the reader will expect a destination and eventual circumstances that agree most with the universe most of us see in our waking and social hours.

It quickly follows that the less specificity about the journey and its destination, the greater the likelihood we are involved in a fantastic journey to a destination where the ordinary laws governing behavior of the landscape and its inhabitants have been altered. Thus Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and your old favorite, the buttes and mesas where at any moment, beep beep, we might encounter The Road Runner evading Wile E. Coyote.

The fantastic journey quickly if not immediately takes us to an alternate universe, where we are made curious to learn the rules governing that other place, the better to appreciate the trials and tribulations of the individuals who reside there. Experiences with reality in the actual world have filibustered our imagination often enough to make us cynical. In alternate universe fiction, we sign on with the certainty of being transported to such a place, either Utopian or dystopian, curious to compare notes. In its way then, every story owes some parentage to the alternate universe as well as the mystery, because we have all of us who read imagined better places to which we aspire and worse places from which we wish to escape, and we have all experienced the mystery of wondering how we are to discover answers to the questions we anticipate being asked as we try to cross over the borders.



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